A diet for lockdown and beyond
There are lots of things we all know we should be doing to reduce the spread of COVID-19: regular hand washing, avoiding touching your face, covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and reducing social contact - all of which may, by now, become our new norm.
As well as these external protective actions we can also protect ourselves on the inside by supporting our immune system. It is highly complex and reacts to our lifestyle and the world around us. One way of keeping it fighting fit is by strengthening our micro-biome - the trillions of microbes living in our gut which play a pivotal role in our response to infection and in our overall health. Not content with fighting infection, the micro-biome also helps prevent the onset of diseases like type 2 diabetes, regulates our mood and improves our sleep.
Eating a diverse diet has a positive impact on the type of microbes in the gut, creating a micro-biome made up of multiple different species, each of which plays their part in immunity and health. That diversity declines with age so it’s important to build and then maintain a healthy microbiome throughout life.
The simplest way to maximise that gut micro-diversity is to eat a varied diet consisting of predominantly plant-based, high-fibre foods. Following a Mediterranean diet (perhaps rightly thought of more as a way of life than just a diet) fulfils that goal. It is balanced and it is very simple to follow. The main focus is on vegetables, lentils, beans and whole grains. It then encompasses natural fats from fish, nuts, seeds and avocados; eggs; small amounts of full-fat dairy, and virgin olive oil. Processed food, refined sugar, red meat, salt and additives are kept to an absolute minimum.
What to eat:
- A fun way to get started is to aim to “eat the rainbow”. Try and have 6-8 servings of different coloured fruits and vegetables a day.
- Swap those white grains for whole grains. Replace white rice, flour, pasta and cereals with whole-grain options such as oats, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and brown rice and see if you can manage five to six servings a day.
- At least once a day make sure you have a portion of beans or lentils to increase your intake of fibre and minerals.
- There are lots of healthier, tasty alternatives to red meat so replace that chop with fish, seafood and chicken.
- We all love a snack but see if you can swap those biscuits and crisp for plain nuts and seeds (about one handful per day).
- Keep your body working at its peak by drinking plenty of water. You want your wee to be pale straw coloured.
- You may want to try and reduce stress with a glass (or three) of wine but perhaps save that for the weekend and keep it (Mediterranean style!) to savouring one small glass so as not to impair that immune system you’ve been doing so much to build up, or it may affect your sleep or your healthy eating resolve.
- And for tea and coffee? Well, the anti-oxidants it contains are helpful but too much of the caffeine isn’t. So a couple of cups a day and not after mid-afternoon.
- I accept it’s a bit of an acquired taste but if you can include fermented foods in your diet they are very beneficial for your gut. Kimchi and sauerkraut are rich in vitamin C, iron and zinc all of which help to support the immune system. So have them as sides with fish, poultry, eggs and salads and eat live yoghurt with fruit for pudding.
Life under lockdown has slowed things down and created a bit more time in many of our days. Why not use some of those extra minutes to reap the physical and mental health benefits of preparing meals from scratch using fresh ingredients. Your micro-biome will be very grateful.
It can be very hard to change a ‘sub-optimal‘ eating habit for the better. Working in partnership with a health life coach can make those all-important behavioural changes a little easier to achieve. So if you’ve been thinking of contacting a life coach to help make and maintain those changes in your diet, there is no better time than now.